The refrigerated bar category is still in its infancy with only a handful of players on its field.
For the first three years of Fresh Bar’s existence, its five founders would drive from their day jobs to what cofounder Will Handke described as “basically another 8-hour shift [making the bars] out of a community kitchen.” With red eyes and tired muscles, they’d go home with bits of oats and caked peanut butter on their clothes.
As 2015 progressed, the team joined food incubator AccelFoods, renewed their packaged design and logo, and struck a deal with East Coast retailer Wegmans. They also finally secured resources and a new facility that could accommodate increasing demand.
A co-op success
Handke attributes Fresh Bar’s success to the “awesome co-op culture in the Twin Cities,” he told FoodNavigator-USA. The idea for Fresh Bar came when Ross Pomeroy, another cofounder and Handke’s twin, decided he was tired of the granola bars on the market, describing them as “an assortment of crumbly or chewy granola lumps.”
He would make his own snack bars out of fresh fruit, nuts, and oats while in Wisconsin, where he was a student and worked as a personal trainer. “He would share them with his clients, and they loved it, it was different from the more shelf stable bars,” Handke said. “That’s where the idea of marketing them and selling them came from.”
Back in Minnesota, they pitched their idea to local co-ops, starting with the two biggest ones, Eastside and The Wedge. “The beautiful thing about co-ops is that I can have the buyer on the phone the moment I call, as opposed to larger retailers,” Handke said about getting the product on the market.
“The initial reaction was a combination of confusion and a little bit of intrigue—they hadn’t seen anything like it before,” Handke added. From there, they expanded to bigger Minnesota retailers, such as Kowalski’s, who they say take pride in stocking Minnesota signature products, and Whole Foods Market in the Twin Cities area, whose local stores have great autonomy.
No co-packer for the fresh flavors
Finding a co-packer, Handke says, has been the biggest challenge, as not many they had reached out to wanted to invest in a smaller brand in a new category. “So we’ve been doing internal manufacturing since the beginning,” he added.
Even with Fresh Bar’s expansion east, being stocked in 39 Wegmans stores in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast as of November 2015, the team still comes home with caked peanut butter and bits of oats on them; this time, at least, its everyone’s full-time job. “Doing things internally gives us more control of costs, and innovation and quality,” Handke said.
Fresh Bar wasn’t made to last very long on shelves. “Being fresh and not shelf-stable unlocks a lot of flavor possibilities,” Handke explained. Chocolate and peanut butter, Handke said, are common granola bar flavors because they can last. “But we can experiment with more flavors, like pear and blueberry.”
Currently, Fresh Bar is sold in packs of three individual bars, with a suggested price of $4.99, though they are looking to start selling individually packed bars to compete with the few other refrigerated bars on the market, like Perfect Bar.
There are four flavors on sale—Apple Almond Cinnamon, Pumpkin Carrot Pecan, Cherry Pear Walnut, and Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana.
“We wanted to position Fresh bar as a premium product, because it is, but we wanted it to be accessible to mainstream consumers as well,” Handke said. “Fresh is a claim everybody can get behind—every consumer deserves a fresh product.”